Suiseki - how to start

By Siggy Franz

Suiseki or Viewing Stones have become well established as an adjunct to bonsai - the same as accessory plants - and most magazines and international shows now feature some of these.

Our little off-shoot, the Cape Suiseki Society, has been in existence for some years, yet it has remained small. We often display some of our stones at our meetings and at our annual show and there is always much interest shown in these fascinating products of nature. There is no doubt, that more people would collect Suiseki - after all we have many suitable rocks in this country - if it was not for the problem of making the wooden stands, the daiza or dai. After all, without the wooden stand a rock is just a rock. Usually it does not stand up on its own at its best angle, so it is put aside on a shelf, hoping that the future will solve the problem. In Europe they also experience this problem and Willi Benz mentioned that on a recent visit to the Malaysian Stone Lovers Society he found this same issue was raised.

This article is specifically written for those who like suiseki but who find the idea of having to make a wooden stand an insurmountable obstacle. I hope that the following will be of some help. The CSS is now meeting every second Sunday morning of the month for a stand making workshop and we hope this will also help newcomers. There is no need to become a wood worker, nor do you need a workbench or workshop. Let us run through the whole process without going into technicalities.

  • You may have a rock which you picked up on your last holiday, or you may come to one of the meetings of the CSS where some of us often offer surplus stones for free picking. You now have one or two stones which 'talk' to you.
  • Clean the stone and play with it until you find the best 'which-way-up' and 'which-way-round'. A slightly different angle can at times change the character of the stone and its final effect. This can also be great fun in a group where you draw on the experience of others. But in the end the stone has to talk to You.
  • Most people don't know where to get a suitable piece of wood for the stand. It is certainly no good to go to your hardware shop or a timber merchant who supplies the building trade. If you do find an outlet that sells quality woods, you usually have to buy a 'length', which is much more than you need. Also some woods are much better suited for our purpose than others. Since the more experienced members of the Suiseki group also have to buy 'lengths' they invariably have a small stock of suitable woods and will be only too willing to help a newcomer by choosing and letting her/him have a suitable piece.
  • There are now lots of Suiseki publications, some in the Kai library, others owned by CSS members. These are a great help when deciding on a suitable shape for your first stand. Don't be too ambitious at the beginning. Keep the stand simple.
  • The making of a stand needs some machine work and hand work. The cutting of the outline for example is best done on a machine fretsaw. This takes only minutes during one of the workshop sessions where the necessary machines are at hand with help from the 'experts'.
  • Now comes the most difficult part, the cutting of the seat of the stone. Forget about the advice in some books of carving this with wood carving chisels and other hand tools. Believe me it is not that easy. You would have to take up woodcarving as a serious hobby, needing a range of chisels, sharpening tools etc. There is one tool you should have if you want to make more than one stand, namely a Dremel, or something similar. This is quite expensive, but can last you the rest of your life. It is important, that this electric tool is small and easily held, even in a small hand, and that it has variable speeds. You can see the use of this tool at one of the workshops. Since the total process of making a stand does involve a fair amount of time using sandpaper, the owner of a Dremel will gladly let a newcomer use his during this time while he can watch and advise you. For repeated 'borrowing' it would be a nice gesture for you to buy your own cutter/bit (only one or two are needed).
  • Choose a simple outline for your first attempt. A simple rebate or rounded edge can often be cut in a couple of minutes with a router at a workshop. There is no need to get your own When the router is set up, the owner will gladly make the cut for you, just to see your happy face!
  • Keep the feet of the stand very simple. Again, look at books and get advice as some types are easier to make than others. Some stands do not have feet. Stay friendly with the owner of the router!
  • Now we come to that part which can take the most time, namely sanding. This is best done by hand. I have not been successful using the little sanding attachments which come with the router. Sandpaper cut into narrow strips gives you better control and can be done in front of the TV. While anybody can use a piece of sandpaper, there are lots of tips about what type of paper and what grade to use, etc.
  • The finish. Anybody can use a small paint brush. Also for your first stand there is no need to go and buy a tin of wood finish. Your friendly neighbour at the workshop will let you have a 'dip'.

I hope, that the above points will make entry into the Suiseki hobby easier for newcomers. Just choose a rock you like, never mind what the books say a suiseki should look like. Taste, like the skill of making a stand, will develop. The secret is to make a start. Don't be put off by the idea of having to make stands. We have three stand making ladies in our little group and I have seen others at work in Europe. Just don't be too ambitious at the beginning. The only problem is the cost of a Dremel tool. But as I explained above, that won't really be necessary until your first viewing stone is standing on your mantle piece and your friends say "Did you make this?'

Suiseki is a hobby of the mind. Feel yourself into the stone. If the stone has got 'it', then you'll get 'it' too. The stand frees the message of the stone.

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